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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at The Old Vic


  Richard Dreyfuss and Elizabeth McGovern/Ph: Tristram Kenton

Richard Dreyfuss's unlucky relationship with the British stage gathers pace with Complicit, a dreadful play from American writer Joe Sutton that finds the hard-working Oscar-winner struggling valiantly - not so much with his lines, the actor's much-vaunted ear piece fully visible, but with the deadening weight of a contemporary play that, rather like David Hare's Gethsemane (though nowhere near as entertaining), already seems dated. While a rather astonishing spread in the program makes Sutton sound like one of the defining dramatists of our time, his play in truth is a tin-eared orgy of American self-flagellation that ends with a central character barking the words, bad bad . Or was that a neighboring critic?

Sutton's dramatic technique consists of wilfully withholding information for much of the first act while his cast of three collectively bellow and look stern, all the while speaking gnomic pronouncements along the lines of, the edifice of American journalism is actually hinging on this - the specific reference of this, of course, left purposefully vague. That line is uttered by David Suchet's silkily spoken Roger Cowan, lawyer to an American journalist, Dreyfuss's Ben Kritzer, whose provocative, perhaps even foolish authorial stance post-9/11 prompts mention of the Dreyfus affair, a perhaps unfortunate reference given the wagging tongues surrounding a production that with luck will represent merely a minor setback in the accelerating good fortunes of artistic director Kevin Spacey's Old Vic of late.

In fact, marking his second directorial venture at his own address, Spacey animates proceedings as if they were some sort of modern-day Copenhagen, his three actors moving around a flashing Rob Howell set adorned above by video screens showing Kritzer being questioned on TV by the BBC's Andrew Marr - though quite why that should be when the legal case in which he is mired seems to be playing itself out States-side represents the sort of minor niggle from which one should no doubt swiftly move on. (Presumably, UK audiences wouldn't know the far more likely interlocutor in such a scenario, Charlie Rose). Having retained the in-the-round Vic seating that worked so triumphantly at the end of last year for The Norman Conquests (itself due on Broadway in April), Spacey may have been hoping for an American play of ideas whose very setting would generate a debating arena for the sorts of topics too often unexplored by the theater either side of the Atlantic. (That said, the new Lynn Nottage play Ruined is, I gather, considerably more explicit on the specifics of torture.) The actual result, by contrast, is to expose the deadening lack of real intellectual urgency, not to mention anything resembling wit, at this play's impassioned if dramatically undernourished heart along with the toll it is clearly taking on Dreyfuss, who abandoned the song-and-dance buoyancy of The Producers for a task that must be only marginally less taxing: the Mel Brooks musical's climactic show-stopper, Betrayed, could double as a sort of thematic mantra here.

Kritzer, it seems, is still being called to account for an op-ed piece he wrote in the immediate wake of the Sept 11 attacks in which he argued the fundamental naivete of America's attitude to torture, since which time he has written a book that risks landing him in prison to the understandable concern of his wife, Judith. (In that most thankless of roles, Elizabeth McGovern looks as if she could be Dreyfuss's granddaughter.) There's much sturm-und-drang about the identifying of sources (on this front, Sutton seems to have taken a leaf from the Judith Miller imbroglio at Th


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